I have written a short homily that addresses the Catholic Service Appeal in our diocese this weekend. This homily is found on this blog following this homily. This is an alternative homily that does not take into account the Catholic Service Appeal.
We all have different experiences of God in our lives & different images of God that come to our minds & to our imaginations. When I served at St Richard parish in Jackson a few years ago, the students made handmade prayer cards with the prayer of St Richard of Chichester on the back. These prayer cards showed the different ways the children see God in their lives. One prayer card that really enchanted me was drawn by a 4th grader, showing a tiny cardinal flying in the sky above the mountains. Like many people, I often see God in the beauty of nature, so to me this was a wonderful image of God’s glory. But the image of this bird flying through nature also brought to my mind how small & insignificant I can feel as a part of creation in comparison to the all-powerful God who created us. Our readings today perhaps call us to take a look at our feelings of unworthiness and insignificance that we might experience in our faith. What could these readings be telling us about such feelings?
The calling Isaiah receives to be a prophet involves a vision he had. Isaiah sees God on a throne high in the heavens, with choirs of angels praising God and the glory with which he fills the earth. In the midst of God’s glory, Isaiah reacts with unworthiness, feeling that any words coming from his mouth wouldn't be worthy of God. An angel swoops down on Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal to purify and to cleanse his lips and his words. Even though Isaiah feels unworthy and insufficient, God still calls him to be a prophet, showing the confidence God has in Isaiah.
Then, in today’s Gospel, Jesus encounters Simon Peter and his fishing companions as they're washing their nets. He tells Peter: “Put out into the deep water – let down your nets for a catch.” Yet, Peter explains that he & his companions, all experienced fishermen, had worked all night long and had caught absolutely nothing. We wonder: Does Jesus know something that they don’t know? But they trust him, and at Jesus' command, they lower their nets. What comes up, but an abundance of fish - enough to tear their nets to shreds and to sink their boats. Here they are in the same place where they'd labored day after day, in an environment they knew so well, in the place where they'd come up empty the night before, and they have a catch beyond all imagining.
Simon Peter is overwhelmed by what has happened, feeling unworthy to receive such a blessing from God. And we might ask ourselves: Do we have preconceptions and rigid expectations about God that are limiting the way God works in our lives, that are hindering our relationship with God? Simon Peter cries out: “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” We are indeed sinful; we can feel so limited and insignificant if dwell on our identity as created beings, on our struggles of faith and trust.
Sometimes, our view of God becomes distorted, even though we think we're backing it up with our experiences and what we read in Scripture. For example, when I was a missionary in Ecuador, so many of the youth I served had a great fear of God, seeing God as a powerful Being who was ready and willing to punish them or seek retribution. Yet, when the Hebrew Scriptures talk about fearing God, it's in the sense of having respect and reverence, of being in awe of God. Our experience of God is to lead us to peace, forgiveness, joy, and wonder, rather than feelings of shame and unworthiness. The cross, Christ's suffering and passion, and our call to obedience to God: these are essential truths of our faith, but they lose their true meaning if they're disconnected from the salvation and redemption we freely receive from God in Christ's resurrection, if they're not seen in the context of the body of Christ we form as his followers. One of the other prayers cards that one of the children drew shows not only a cross, but also a heart – what a balanced view that is of Christ.
In order to understand the feelings Isaiah and Peter express in our readings, perhaps it's not really shame they're feeling, but instead an expression of humility in their attempt to determine where they stand in the reality of God. When we come face-to-face with God's holiness, we're confronted with our human weaknesses and limitations and faced with our “createdness” and “creatureliness,” Perhaps Isaiah and Peter truly understood how they paled compared to the bright light of God. The humility that we feel in God's presence can be a very good thing if it helps us to be more open to God’s love and His presence in our lives. Isaiah’s humility and feelings of awe from his vision of God in heaven allow him to answer God’s call, in saying: “Here I am God, send me!”
Peter and the fishermen obeyed Jesus in casting out their nets. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves: Is there deep water out there where we need to cast our nets beyond our expectations, beyond what we can see, beyond our comfort zone and familiar surroundings? Is God calling us to cast out our nets somewhere in order to bring up the wonders that God has waiting for us? Are we open to using our imagination and to freeing our minds to truly see the ways God is present in our lives, just like the children of our school in coming up with images of God for their prayer cards? Perhaps in our humility we will find the courage to take that chance.